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How low will he go? Obama gives Japan's Emperor Akihito a wow bow (Updates with videos, pic)

Democrat president Barack Obama bows to Japan's Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko 11-09

(New UPDATE: Monday 5:02 p.m. OK, it's not funny if you work at the White House. But for everybody else a new video at the bottom of this post will provide some chuckles about how the rest of the world chooses to greet the Japanese Emperor. Hint: It's different than President Obama.)

(UPDATES: 12:22 p.m. Saturday. A brief news video has been added below, showing the greeting in this photograph. Contrary to some claims, the video shows no reciprocal bow by the emperor, who traditionally bows to no one. And we've added a file photo from 2007 of Vice President Dick Cheney greeting the Japanese Emperor at the same residence in a different fashion.)

How low will the new American president go for the world's royalty?

This photo will get Democrat President Obama a lot of approving nods in Japan this weekend, especially among the older generation of Japanese who still pay attention to the royal family living in iRepublican vice president Dick Cheney is received by Emperor Akihito in 2007ts downtown castle. Very low bows like this are a sign of great respect and deference to a superior.

To some in the United States, however, an upright handshake might have looked better. (See Cheney-Akihito photo, right).

Remember Michelle Obama casually patting Britain's Queen Elizabeth on the back during their Buckingham Palace visit? America's royalty tends to make movies and get bad reviews and lots of money as a sign of respect.

Obama could receive some frowns back home as he did for his not-quite-this-low-or-maybe-about-the-same-bow to the Saudi king not so long ago. (See photo here)

How times change under Democratic presidents.

Back in 1994 when President Bill Clinton appeared to maybe perhaps almost start to bow to Akihito at a White House encounter, U.S. officials rushed to deny it was any such a thing. And the N.Y. Times chronicled the comedic drama here.

Akihito, who turns 76 next month, is the eldest son and fifth child of Emperor Showa, the name given to an emperor and his reign after his death.

Emperor Showa is better known abroad by the life name of Hirohito. He became emperor in 1925 and died in 1989, the longest historically-known rule of the nation's 125 emperors.

Hirohito presided over his nation's growth from an undeveloped agrarian economy into the expansionist military power and ally of Nazi Germany of the 1930's.

And, later, Japan became a global economic giant. Hirohito, along with Prime Minister Hideki Tojo, who authorized the 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor, were much reviled abroad during World War II.

Historically, debaDemocrat president Barack Obama bows to the Saudi kingte has simmered over how much of a political puppet Hirohito was to the country's military before and during the war.

Even after Democratic President Harry Truman ordered the two atom bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in the summer of 1945, there were strong forces within Japan that wanted to continue to fight the Americans in the spirit of kamikaze suicide pilots.

But Akihito's father went on national radio, the first time his subjects had ever heard Hirohito's voice, and without using the inflammatory word "surrender," pronounced that the country must "accept the unacceptable." It did.

As the conquering Allied general and then presiding officer of the U.S. occupation, Gen. Douglas MacArthur, decided to allow Japan to keep its emperor as a ceremonial unifying institution within a nascent democracy.

Tojo, on the other hand, was hanged.

MacArthur treated Emperor Hirohito respectfully but, as his body language in this blacU.S. General Douglas MacArthur meets with Japan's Emperor Hirohitok and white postwar photo demonstrates, was not particularly deferential. 

(But then MacArthur was not known as a particularly deferential person, as Truman discovered just before firing him later. But that's another war.)

Akihito was born during Japan's conquering of China and was evacuated during the devastating American fire-bombing of Tokyo, which was built largely of wood in those days.

The future emperor learned English during the U.S. occupation, but, inexplicably, his father ordered that his oldest boy not receive an Army commission as previous imperial heirs always had.

Akihito assumed the throne on Jan. 7, 1989. Within weeks he began a series of formal expressions of remorse to Asian countries for Japan's actions during his....

...father's reign. In 2003, he underwent surgery for prostate cancer.

In 1959, Akihito married Michiko Shoda, the first commoner allowed to enter the Japanese royal family. That was two years before the birth of Akihito's future presidential guest, Barack Obama.

Joe Biden was already 17 by then. But he wasn't a senator.

(UPDATE: Here's a new video assembled by some clever College Republicans at the University of Connecticut. It's even got music and requires no explanation.

-- Andrew Malcolm

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Photo: Mandel Ngan / AFP / Getty; David Bohrer / White House (Vice President Dick Cheney greets Emperor Akihito somewhat differently in 2007); Reuters (Obama bows to the king of Saudi Arabia earlier this year); U.S. Army Archives (Gen. Douglas MacArthur not bowing to Emperor Hirohito after World War II).

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I guess he will also bow to Red China as well. Anything to degrade this county in the image of the world. He did not go to Berlin to celebrate the freedom we created with the destruction of Berlin Wall. He was too busy playing golf.

An absolute disgrace. In my mind he is a traitor to this county and has committed and will continue to commit high crimes and misdemeanors.

I can’t wait for November 2010 to take back the Congress.

In Japan it is customary to bow when greeting others. It is also customary to bow lower than the other person to show greater respect, especially to elders. It is sad that so many chastise our president for being respectful and having manners. We have had our example set by a beer drinking redneck for too long perhaps. I am proud to say Obama is my president.

Can we be quite certain that Obama wasn't "lowering his head in order to be at eye level with a shorter person" like he was with the Saudi king? haha
I wish Obama would show as much deference for the Constitution and the Taxpayer as he does for foreign royalty.

Here we go again! Maybe he will offer reparations to Japan for our brutal treatment of them after Pearl Harbor. This clown is an shameful embarassment.

Obama's bow to the Saudi king was a breach of etiquette and a horrible symbolic act, but bowing in Japan is like shaking hands in America. Anytime you introduce yourself to someone, you bow, regardless of whether it's the plumber come to fix your sink, your new assistant in the office, or the emperor. It is a common courtesy that has none of the meaning of bowing to a monarch that we have in the West. Refusing to bow, whether to your new assistant or the emperor, has the same insulting connotation as refusing to shake hands does in the US.

Then there is the question of depth. A deeper bow is appropriate for someone of the emperor's status, but the emperor should also bow more deeply for a president. What seems to be going on here is a somewhat common and humorous problem when an American meets a Japanese person in Japan. The American bows and the Japanese person reaches out to shake hands, each trying to anticipate the cultural expectations of the other. (Bowing and shaking hands at the same time is bad form in both cultures, so Obama is certainly committing a faux pas in this photo.)

The comparison photo of MacArthur and Hirohito isn't really relevant because the two are not just meeting. MacArthur did treat Hirohito as a subordinate in some ways, but the point was that the Allies were the conquerors and going to be giving the orders. That is no longer the relationship between the US and Japan, and MacArthur's treatment of Hirohito, while appropriate for his day, is not appropriate for current US presidents.

From this photo, I'm willing to give Obama the benefit of the doubt on the bow. It seems appropriate.

@ Andrew Malcolm, it seems to me you are creating some unnecessary buzz. This is part of Asian culture! I highly recommend you come out to China, South Korea, or Japan to understand how people greet each other.

Whenever you see each other you bow to the other person - which is like a handshake, but more respectful. The lower the bow is for a higher hierarchy. President Obama made a wise diplomatic more here.

1948-49 - Democratic U.S. President Harry Truman declares solidarity with those trapped in West Berlin by the Soviets, initiates Berlin Airlift that will keep the city alive for almost a year - flying in food and supplies round the clock - in an effort that will cost the lives of many American airmen. The U.S. and our Western European allies ultimately triumph in this confrontation with the communist world.

1963, June 26th - Democratic President John F. Kennedy, in a speech for the ages, declares "Ich bin ein Berliner" ("I am a Berliner") as a statement of solidarity and committment to West Berlin, in the face of the decision by the Soviets and the communist block to build the Berlin Wall, which turned the citizens of East Germany into prisoners in their own country.

1987, June 12th, Republican President Ronald Reagan, in another absolutely historic speech, issues this challenge:

"General Secretary Gorbachev, if you seek peace, if you seek prosperity for the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, if you seek liberalization: Come here to this gate! Mr. Gorbachev, open this gate! Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall! "

1989 - November 9th - Faced with huge crowds responding to announcements that travel restrictions to the West will be lifted, the East German border guards drop their guns, the crowd surges over and through the hated wall, and the communist enslavement of Eastern Europe crumbles in the aftermath.

2009 - November 9th - As the world and all of our most valued allies gather to celebrate the 20th Anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, their is one conspicuous absense. President Obama has a "schedule conflict". He will make time to travel 6 times to New Jersey, in a losing bid to prop up a failing govenor. He will make a trip to pick up his phony Nobel Peace Price. But he doesn't have the time to travel to an event which marks the climax of our victory over communism in the Cold War, a struggle in which millions of Americans served and tens of thousands died??

Are you just too busy - or too busy trying to enact your Marxist dreams here? - and don't want to recall these events?


President Obama - you are a disgrace!!

I suspect that Obama’s next act will be to kiss the emperor’s back side and then apologize for America shooting down 24 Japanese planes as they were attacking Pearl Harbor.


Wow, how low will this guy stoop? If he bows to the Saudi King and Japanese Emperor, shouldn't he crawl to the ChiCom Premier for all the debt we own them? I think that was the greeting fit for the Grand Sultan wasn't it? Don't forget to crawl out backwards so as not to turn your back and incur the wrath of your mighty lord. A classic western style handshake would be respectful enough. This guy is an embarrassment.

Bowing is a traditional greeting in Japan, but notice that the Emperor is shaking hands. This is the traditional greeting among heads of state, the tradition begun by George Washington.

(Actually, it was Thomas Jefferson, who began the presidential handshake. Washington declined to do so.)

Should all US Citizens bow to other worldly leaders or shall our supposed President represent us all in doing so???!!! How long will this alleged usurper continue to belittle the Country and Constitution he was sworn to represent??? I guess I should retract that last question, Obama never was sworn in properly, the first attempt at swearing him in was bungled (Probably on purpose), the second attempt didn't include the Bible or any other form of established law, only his oath, which has been proven worthless, unless you are a terrorist!!!!!!!!!

How stupid is this man? does he not realize that he is being submissive to the leader of a country we defeated? Is America's pride of no value to this idiot?
Who does he belittle this great country by bowing to the Japanese and the Muslim leaders.
I know that japan is important to America commercially, by as far as I can recall they have not bought the whole country..Yet.
America bows to no one.

This was an old Japanese trick, the emperor obviously told him his shoelaces were untied. Give President Obama a break!

Note to DNC; you have my permission to use that line.

Our President is nothing more than a sniveling, sock puppet manchurian candidate. Obama will not rest until America is reduced to enslavement under a marxist/islamic dictatorship.
How dare he as President bow to a monarch!
What a putzwad!
2010 America for Real Americans! America must return to our Constitution before all our rights are stripped away by the maggots behind Oz bin Obama.

It would be nice if Obama would refrain from submissive gestures to foreign royalty. It is unbecoming of a US President to do so. A firm, and respectful handshake between allies is much more appropriate.


Bowing like that is for subordinates, not heads of state!

Will he beg for favours now?


Bowing like that is for subordinates, not heads of state!

Will he beg for favours now?

I was calling Obama the "Jerky Giraffe".Now,I think i'll call him the "Bowing Buffoon".

I guess it depends on which sort of royalty you are. The monarch of a staunch ally, such as the Queen of England? You get a chummy pat on the back and a cheapo gift.

The monarch of a past or current enemy, you get low bows and submission.

Funny, how that is? Can't wait for his visit with China. He's already said we won't mess with their communist efforts to rule the world and given them a greenlight for all-out economic rule. I wonder if they'll be rubbing lip prints off the guy's shoes?

Another show of American strength....NOT!

Did Emperor Akihito return the bow? If so, it's a positive display of mutual respect. If not, it's a disturbing show of one-sided deference inappropriate for our President in the face of a foreign leader.

I'd have said in the face of "a peer" rather than "a foreign leader", but the President of the United State of America has few, if any, peers.

Please, please, PLEASE tell us that this time the foreign official our nation's leader bowed to returned the courtesy and respect. Bowing is a common gesture in the Japanese culture, and one the Emperor should have initiated or returned without hesitation.

The first incident (with the Saudi King) may have been impulsive or simply a poor decision by President Obama and can be easily overlooked. Everyone makes mistakes. But Americans NEED to know that our President is building relationships of mutual admiration, not simply kowtowing from a subservient position or apologizing for past transgressions while ignoring all the positive work America has simultaneously done.

So.... can someone (perhaps Mr. Malcolm or a colleague) please help clarify: did Emperor Akihito also bow? I sincerely hope he did.

So is it simply a greeting or does it show "a great respect and deference to a superior"? As usual dems will say greeting and repubs will say shows signs of weekness.
And as always if the president was GOP, the responses would be 180 degree different. Pure partisan gets very old and wholly predictable after awhile.

So is it simply a greeting or does it show "a great respect and deference to a superior"? As usual dems will say greeting and repubs will say shows signs of weekness.
And as always if the president was GOP, the responses would be 180 degree different. Pure partisan gets very old and wholly predictable after awhile.

Showing respect to other unAmerican....

Maybe he is just begging him to lend us (USA) more money, so that he can give to ACORN?

There's nothing wrong with some humility. The U.S. has been short on that for a long time. The author of this article could learn a thing or two from President Obama. Perhaps if you have nothing better to write about you could shut down instead. Less brainless chatter on the net.

As I recall, I don't think even Jimmy Carter did this. Although I could be wrong. I do remember when Carter participated in Communion at a Catholic mass and got A LOT of flack for that, and justifiably so. It was ignorant.

Clearly Obama chooses to do this. This is in sync with his vision of where he wants to take the U.S. However, I don't think he realizes that the people he represents might be a little more accommodating to his vision if he gave just a little more respect to our country by following the protocol of not bowing to any royalty.

What infuriates people is the deliberate disrespect to his own country when he participates in this behavior. Because no matter what side you're on, you must agree that this is a deliberate act. Would anyone on the left be offended if he didn't bow? The president meeting another head of state should not be controversial. Honestly, I can't figure out why he does this to himself.


I am proud of my respectful president. I am ashamed of my hate-filled countrymen.

I am proud of my respectful president. I am ashamed of my hate-filled countrymen.

He's a community organizer bowing to a more experienced man. Nothing to see here.

I'm not a liberal and hope Obama gets voted out in 2012. But I do not see anything wrong with the way he should respect to the Leader of an allied nation. Geez do the news companies just try to make him look bad ? This is a non issue.

President OBowma!


it is a sign of respect so were is the pic of the bow in return. I mean bo is the president of the united state last i checked, so he would deserve the same amount of coutesy rite. Stop trying to kiss everyone toes bo, stand tall and represent america.

I, for one, am glad that we no longer have a president who thinks he's the ruler of the world; a president who knows how to show proper respect for a leader on his home turf.

Has Obama fired all of the White House protocal experts or does he just ignore them? A head of state never bows to another head of state. It continues to be amateur hour with this administration.

All of the pandering in Asia is because we owe them all so much money and our governtment is bankrupt. Doesn't anyone in the U.S. get that. We are out there begging for them NOT to dump the dollar as the world reserve currency. We are at their mercy.
About the only guy in Washington who really understands this is Dr. Ron Paul. Google Ron Paul. The whole world understands better than the ignorant American people. We watch dumb TV, attend one dumb sporting event after another and read nothing. We allow the Dems and Reps to divide us from paying attention to what is really happening in the world today. Turn off your TV, start reading and thinking.

I lived in Japan for more than 3 years. Bowing is a sign of respect. Even though I don't like what this administration is doing, I find no fault with what BO did. Some of you people need to learn about other cultures. This world is big and not everyone thinks or acts like a Yank. Get over yourself.

A bow that low is not a courtesy or a diplomatic gesture. Bowing that far at the waist in Japanese culture symbolizes submission or apology for a great wrong. Fits the profile for the way Obama approaches everything, doesn't it? Give away the sovereignty of the country and apologize for the U.S. being successful and powerful.

Get used to it, Americans. We'll all be bowing to Asia after Obama spends our Nation into bankruptcy. This is the end of the American era captured in a single photograph.

Obama got it wrong again. The American President or this nation does not bow down to anyone.

If you choose to bow to show respect you should always look the person in the eye as you bow. That way the person you are bowing to knows you are showing respect but have respect yourself and are not a servant. Looking down is a sign of weakness..which is what Barry O shows the world every day.

Yes, bowing is a tradition in Japan. The Japanese bow to one another instead of shaking hands. But the way you bow to someone says a lot. Most bows are almost like a quick nod. A long, low bow is not a "polite hello", but a gesture of fealty. No, I don't think Obama is really pledging allegiance to a foreign potentate. I just think he's being ill-advised. Either that, or he's a total idiot. We'll know for certain whether he's a traitor or not if he apologizes for Hiroshima.

Who won't this guy bow to?

What--does our President need a lesson on American history? Obviously someone told him to bow to the emperor--better get another adviser. Depth of bow an indication and acknowledgment of superiority of person being bowed to. Crazy could have continued down and kissed the floor or in the alternative spread his legs and kissed his own sweet ass.

Notice how low the emperor bowed--so as not to embarrass Japan. hmmm only the 12th or 13th real screw up. Don't care what he does by himself but he represents the strongest, most democratic, richest country in the world. For God's sake act like it.

I would bow to God--but as an American, no one else.

what a jerk. My President.

I hate to say I was right, but.....
Hypocrites and slogan followers. That's all we EVER get from the Drudge Report. When you finally stop measuring everything in absolutes, this country will begin to repair itself.
Far Right and Far Left are destroying this country and they do so willingly. All these "good christians" driven by an insatiable hatred.
Even if you dislike Obama, you have to understand he's doing the correct thing here. No matter what Hannity told you to think.

Bowing is a sign of respect AND DEFERENCE. He could have done the more casual bow and still showed his respect. He loves to apologize for things he hasn't done, and doesn't have the cajones to stand up and be recognized as the leader of one of the most powerful countries in the world.

In other words .. he's a woos and not a real man or leader.

The only people he should be bowing to are the people who voted for him. Otherwise he wouldn't be able to show his antics. And this kind of bow is not a presidential bow, it's more like: "Emanuel, am I low enough"? He is embarassment to our country.

Sure, it is courteous in Japan to bow when greeting someone...fur you and I. but not for the office of the President of the United States! Obama is clueless when it comes to the protocol of the office. This is an embarresment for the United States. And for those of you who do not understand that, then you are cluless too.

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About the Columnist
A veteran foreign and national correspondent, Andrew Malcolm has served on the L.A. Times Editorial Board and was a Pulitzer finalist in 2004. He is the author of 10 nonfiction books and father of four. Read more.
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